Elle Luna’s creative journey is a touchstone for many eager to find creative expression in their lives. A designer and artist, she’s become somewhat of a creativity guru with her recent book, The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion.
From The Great Discontent site:
I have so much respect for anybody who will step away from what they can do in order to find what they must do. That’s a hallmark characteristic of entrepreneurs and artists. And it’s scary and exciting as all hell.
I’ve read her book and highly recommend it. You’ll find it’s many things: a journal about her struggle to find and express her creative passion – painting, an exploration of roadblocks we erect on the path to creativity, and a guide to discovering and realizing your own creative impulse.
It’s also surprisingly reasoned – unlike Timothy Leary’s famous call in the 60’s to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” she talks about how issues like time, money and space challenge your ability to transform your life from the world of “should” to the challenge of doing what you “must” to follow your creative passion.
How did she launch her creative journey and what can we learn from her experience?
Creativity is a process and often, each experience builds on the next. It’s also a jumble of confusion, inspiration, stillness and bursts of activity – all leading to a final outcome. The process can be disciplined or unfocused, spontaneous or meticulously planned in advance – the specifics vary with each person.
Elle Luna would say it’s a journey that is potentially open to everyone. Here’s her story in brief:
Elle Luna grew up in Texas and came from a long line of lawyers, on her father’s side. She took some art courses in college but saw law as her destiny. She applied to 9 law schools and was rejected by all. So she pursued her early interest in art and got an MFA in design and conceptual storytelling from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Her ability as a storyteller led to a dream job with the design firm IDEO. From there, she helped redesign Uber’s iphone app, won an Innovation by Design award, designed a logo and app for the start-up Mailbox, and helped scale up the storyteller site, Medium. She was 31, at the top of her game but all she accomplished left her feeling unfulfilled.
From The Great Discontent:
I started having a recurring dream about a white room: it had really high ceilings, white walls, industrial windows, and concrete floors. I had the dream over and over again. Finally, a friend of mine said, “Have you ever thought about finding this white room in real life?” I remember feeling stunned by the question. What an obvious thing to ask. I didn’t know what I was looking for or what the role of this white room was. I felt ridiculous.
Feeling restless and unfulfilled, she began looking for her dream space.
One day I was on Craigslist and saw a thumbnail of an apartment—it was the room from my dreams. When I walked into the space, it was crawling with people, but I felt like it was already mine. I walked up to the broker, wrote a check, and left; it was almost an out-of-body experience. A couple of hours later I got a call that I had gotten the apartment.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I showed up in the new apartment with two suitcases and my dog.
I sat, looked at the space and said aloud, “What in God’s name have I just done? Why I am I here?” As clear as day, the space spoke back to me and said, “It’s time to paint.”
That next morning, I went to the art store and filled my cart with anything and everything that spoke to me. Then I went back to the space and started painting nonstop for the next seven months.
Still, she was stuck between should and must – How would she live? How could she support herself? Would her work be any good at all?
From an interview from Refinery29.com:
Shoulds are everywhere. You should read this book. You should go to that event. You should ask that question. They can be small; they can be big. Should provides lots of rewards.
Must is different. It’s about the essence of you: what you believe; what you stand for; what you want; who you must be; and how you must live. Must isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be brutal. But, choosing must is the greatest thing we can do with our time here in this life.
She spent time in solitude to slow down, explore, meditate and seek inspiration. She showed her work to people she admired for feedback and criticism. And kept working, refining and following her muse. Her art gained attention – a solo show sold out.
From the Great Discontent:
Everything is a paradox. I feel like I’m on a path I’ve never seen before, yet I’m not on a path at all. There’s no prescription for where I’m going, yet many people have been down this road.
In 2014, she wrote on Medium about her struggles and insights into the conflicts between “should” and “must.” Her article went viral. That led to a book and inspirational talks like this one at DO Lectures.
She took a deep dive into painting, plus giving interviews and inspirational talks. This year she felt the need for solitude once again. She decided to take her “white room” on the road.
Here’s a video of that experience, from the Adobe Create site:
Adobe Creative Voices – Elle Luna from ALCHEMYcreative on Vimeo.
More than anything, I’m struck by her courage, curiosity and belief that if she takes time to stop and listen she’ll find a direction forward. It’s exciting and difficult, crazy and illuminating to find your own direction and follow it. When you give yourself to the “must,” you may not become a social media darling but you will be doing something that’s true to yourself. That’s a huge gift in its own right.
I began to wonder, “What if we went through life assuming that everyone actually was an artist? That everyone had an offering to give? To share?” Let’s broaden that up a little and ask, “What if everyone has a gift inside of them, a unique gift to give the world?”
If your time is short – read Elle’s article on Medium (15 minutes) or watch her DO talk (30 minutes). If you have some time – buy her richly illustrated book. You’ll feel inspired and realize there are many small steps you can take to launch your own creative journey. She’ll show you how.
Thank you for the post, Dan. What a marvelous way to begin a day! Elle’s color palette reminds me of Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings: bright and serene; a sheer delight.